With the release of the latest FAQ a few days ago, the game has once again gone through some rather dramatic changes. Last time around, it was Zigil Miner and Beravor that saw their abilities greatly diminished. Some have even argued that the Zigil Miner is useless now, though I can’t say that I agree. They do still provide resource generation in a sphere that otherwise lacks such, and even a three-legged dog with the Dwarf trait can’t be entirely useless in the current metagame. The ridiculous Beravor draw-engine decks were also killed with her erratum, but her solid all around stats mean that she is still useful with an unexpected courage, we just have to be a bit more creative in how we get our card draw. Even the change to Protector of Lorien to limit the effect to 3 times per phase was logical, if annoying.
The fact of the matter is, even worthwhile errata add to the conceptual weight of a game. The more that a beginning player has to “just know” and the less they can rely on their own ability to “use their words” and simply read the card in front of them, the harder it is to learn a game. This, more than any other reason, is why playtesting is so important.
That said, I agree with the errata that were made in FAQ 1.31. In my opinion, the changes made were worth the cost of a slight increase in the complexity of the game. If the moons can ever align and printing schedules work out, we might even have new printed cards with corrected text. This would markedly simplify things for new players who can understandably look like a dog being shown a card trick when you try to explain that in fact, no, the card they are holding does not work the way it is printed. Games evolve, and anyone who expects a game with the word Living in the title not to change should probably just stick to chess and crossword puzzles (or Go, for the less occidentally-inclined).
So, what about the latest FAQ? I must admit, it was a weird feeling, after finally picking up On The Doorstep from my FLGS, to come back to my cave only to find that two of my favorite decks had been broken like Bolg’s bodyguards, one of them irretrievably so. The cards in question are Nori and Master of Lore. For those who haven’t read it yet, I heartily encourage you to check out the more in-depth analysis of the FAQ over at Tales from the Cards. This article is not so much about the FAQ itself, as it is just the ramblings of a frustrated bear.
I guess this is how it must have felt if I had a Zigil Miner + Every Expensive Card deck before the previous FAQ came out. I remember being impressed watching a video of Jared from Cardboard of the Rings using Beravor to get infinite willpower. It’s an ingenious combo that he found, but he even mentions in the comments that he is showing it more out of a sense of discovery. I like finding these kinds of combos too, and I’m always impressed at the way other players can find such powerful strategies. For me though, other than as academic exercises, game-breaking combos are not all that fun to actually play.
Still, a big part of the fun of this game is taking new cards, combining them with old cards in surprising ways, and creating something different. It feels good to be able to utilize the card pool to create something unique, with cards that you like, used in ways that reflect your sensibilities and play style. Every game will have it’s hyper-competitive Boromir and Gimli players, even a cooperative game like this one. The great thing about any game though, is that you don’t have to play with people that you don’t want to. This is honestly why I don’t play games like Magic competitively any more. There are some great players, and great people, that I met while playing that game. But the tournament scene will always attract certain personality types as well. At this point in my life, I don’t have time for assholes.
I recently had the privilege of playing some multiplayer games on OCTGN with other members of the community. Ian, Derek and Matthew are all awesome guys – the kind of people that I would be friends with, even if we did not share this game in common. That the community includes such individuals is a testament to the works of Tolkien and the wonderful game that Fantasy Flight has designed. I am proud to be a part of this community, and I can’t wait to meet many of you fine people at GenCon this summer. Being able to interact and share a mutual enjoyment of the game with good people is a big part of what makes it fun, not showing off my elite game-breaking combos.
To each their own, but I have absolutely no interest in playing in a Lord of the Rings “tournament”. I play this game for three reasons… no four! (and a fanatical devotion to the Pope). Silliness aside, there are lots of reasons to like this game, beyond the great community that I mentioned above. First and foremost, I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s writing. I’ve even read The Children of Húrin and some of his unfinished works. I really like the design of the game. I enjoy other Fantasy Flight LCGs like A Game of Thrones, but the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is in a class by itself. The cooperative aspect of the game fits in perfectly with the lore, and the art is amazing. Show your favorite card to players of other card games, and even if it might not make them want to play, they will certainly wish that their game had card art half as beautiful.
Maybe it’s just a bear’s inherent mistrust of authority, but I really don’t need someone else to tell me how to play the game. I understand the spirit of the FAQ, and certainly for those who will be participating in any competitive format of the game, there needs to be balance. As for me, I’m going to play my Master of Lore the way it was printed on the card. The fact that my mono-Lore deck, one that was designed specifically to showcase that card, is not even among my strongest decks, is all the proof that I need for the card being balanced. Likewise with Nori, Boromir and the Seven Dwarves went from being a fun, if gimmicky deck, to one that only kinda works. This is not hypothetical, I took these decks and loaded them on OCTGN and played solo “with the latest FAQ”. These decks went from being fun, to being “balanced” and kinda boring.
If the goal is limiting game-breaking combos, often times there are options when it comes to which card receives errata. In the case of Master of Lore, the game-breaking combo that was discovered involved Born Aloft, Erebor Hammersmith, Legacy of Durin and Horn of Gondor. A simple errata of Born Aloft, a card few people even play, to change it from an Action to a Combat Action, would have fixed the whole silly mess. When it comes to changing cards that are already in print, it is my firm belief that the goal of errata should always be to change as little as possible, while still addressing the problem.
With Nori it is less simple, but honestly, I don’t see his ability as broken to begin with. With the difficulty of many of the recents quests, it’s not like having a low threat would matter anyway. So many enemies either have comically low engagement, or can attack from the staging area. The limited threat reduction that I might get from Nori with A Very Good Tale, Bofur (TRG) and Stand and Fight, aren’t going to matter one whit when I’m staring down a Mumak, a Morgul Spider and some Haradrim Elite. That said, Nori’s ability opened up whole new avenues of deck design for the less crazy scenarios. None of these designs were game-breaking but many of these options are now removed with his erratum.
These are just one random bear’s opinions, and I don’t expect or even want others to agree with me. The ultimate point of a game is to have fun. As I get older, I gain more responsibilities, and I lose precious free-time to various and sundry demands of the everyday. Play time is something that this bear takes very seriously. I respect that others want to play by the rules, and I definitely think a strong set of rules makes a game better. But, at the end of the day, rules are still the servant, and enjoyment has to be the master, otherwise we have lost sight of the game board entirely. So, let this be a disclaimer to those who might play the game with me in the future. Just like Star Wars Episodes I, II and III, the fourth Indiana Jones movie, and Michael Jordan’s stint with the Washington Wizards, as far as I’m concerned, the errata to Master of Lore and Nori, never happened.